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article imageRival prayers, police presence as Ukraine marks holiday

By AFP     Oct 14, 2018 in World

Police were out in force in Kiev Sunday as Ukraine marked Defender's Day, an event with nationalist roots, shortly after a decision to grant independence to the country's Orthodox Church brought fresh tensions.

The Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate announced this week that it would recognise the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, leading to cheers from Kiev but fury in Moscow while prompting fears of a "religious war" in the country.

Tens of thousands of far-right activists marched through the centre of Kiev, waving red and black flags, a symbol of the nationalist movement, and blue and yellow Ukrainian flags.

The demonstrators lit flares and smoke bombs while shouting "Glory to Ukraine!"
The demonstrators lit flares and smoke bombs while shouting "Glory to Ukraine!"
Genya SAVILOV, AFP

They lit flares and smoke bombs while shouting: "Glory to Ukraine!".

At the same time, around 500 worshipers gathered at the landmark Kiev-Pechersk monastery, which is currently aligned with Moscow, for a service led by Metropolitan Onufriy, the head of the Moscow branch of the Ukrainian Church.

"Today there is a temptation inside the church," Metropolitan Onufriy told the crowd.

"There are people who want to rule over all believers, who want to be first and make everyone worship them," he added, underlining that "the canonical order of church life is violated".

Around 500 worshipers gathered at the landmark Kiev-Pechersk monastery  which is currently aligned w...
Around 500 worshipers gathered at the landmark Kiev-Pechersk monastery, which is currently aligned with Moscow
Volodymyr Shuvayev, AFP

During the morning service in Lavra, Metropolitan Pavlo of the Moscow branch of the Ukrainian Church referenced a historic clash between Kievan Rus and Constantinople, the predecessors to Russia-Ukraine and modern day Istanbul.

An AFP correspondent said around a dozen buses with officers from the National Guard had been dispatched to the scene, with other officers apparently from the country's security service on site.

Thousands of people gathered on the St.Sophia square Sunday morning to take part in a thanksgiving prayer for the decision, led by Patriarch Filaret.

Patriarch Filaret was excommunicated by the Russian Orthodox Church in the dispute with Moscow over the status of the Ukraine Church, but has now been reinstated by the Istanbul clerics.

In his sermon, he denounced those who supported the Moscow-based Church as a "fifth column" that supports Russian President Vladimir Putin and his actions in Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko was at the prayer.

"The Kremlin's objective is to instigate a religious war in Ukraine," he had said this week.

More than 6 000 officers were dispatched to patrol the streets of Kiev and ensure the  march did not...
More than 6,000 officers were dispatched to patrol the streets of Kiev and ensure the march did not descend into violence
Sergei CHUZAVKOV, AFP

Meanwhile, more than 6,000 officers were dispatched to patrol the streets of Kiev and ensure a rightwing march that traditionally takes place on Defenders' Day afternoon does not descend into violence.

The Kremlin has said that Russia would protect "the interests of Orthodox believers" in the event of any clashes as the Ukrainian Church moves towards independence.

The announcement is of concern to Kiev, as Moscow has justified its annexation of Crimea and backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine by saying it is acting to protect ethnic Russians.

An influential Moscow cleric had earlier warned that parishioners would not hand over churches to a new Orthodox institution willingly.

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